Understand the different stages in the scholarly publishing process, including:

  • writing and formatting in the preferred style of the publisher or journal
  • understanding author responsibilities
  • submitting your article and what happens in editorial review
  • peer review and peer review training opportunities
  • avoiding unethical publishers.

6. Unethical publishing

Unethical publishers (sometimes referred to as predatory) seek to take advantage of the Gold Open Access model of publication, whereby the author pays to have an article available open access. Such practitioners can set up websites that closely resemble legitimate online publishers, and often send out spam emails requesting authors to submit articles or to become an editor or peer reviewer. Academics considering publishing in journals should carefully evaluate the scholarly credibility of both the publisher and the journal.

Listen to the ABC Radio National Background Briefing segment on predatory publishing and the tactics used in this growing sector.


Identifying reputable open access journals

To assess an open access journal you're considering publishing in, check:

Is a journal predatory or unethical?

Check further if the journal you are considering raises any of these "red flags":

  1. Sends spam emails inviting article submissions
  2. Article processing charges (APCs) are difficult to locate on the journal's website
  3. New publishers launch a fleet of empty journals
  4. Publisher uses fake impact factors and indexing platforms
  5. Deceptive information on journal content and the editorial board
  6. Publisher promotes the ISSN as a sign of quality
  7. Journal website doesn't adhere to industry standards and has grammatical errors
  8. Anonymous, fictitious editorial board, editors, researchers or listed without consent
  9. Article processing charges are applied, but the journal does not deliver services such as peer review or indexing
  10. Web searches of the publisher name with keywords (such as complaint, scam, or fraud) retrieve results

Do not make assumptions based on one "red flag" alone but be alerted to delve deeper.

Read Academic spam and open access publishing — a blog post on spamming techniques of unethical publishers.

Vanity publishing

Vanity publishers are publishers that will charge the author a fee for publishing a book. Vanity publishers do not get their money from selling the book, but rather from selling the book production services to the author. Vanity publishers often target early career researchers who are seeking publishing opportunities or may offer to publish your thesis.

Check the Directory of open access books (DOAB) to verify if the publisher is a legitimate, open access book publisher.

Vanity publishing will usually:

  • not undergo peer review
  • require the author to pay a publication fee
  • not provide any copyeditor or proofreading service (though may charge extra for this service)
  • not pay any royalties.

The strategy of dishonest vanity publishers can be to use email addresses from reputable conferences and journal papers for targeted academic spam. You may receive spam emails requesting:

  • attendance and/or participation at a conference
  • publication of your research online
  • publication of your thesis in the form of a printed book,
  • publication of your research papers as book chapters.

Such offers may tempt early career researchers who are seeking publishing opportunities, however, vanity publishing will not add value to your academic profile. 

As advised by the Australian Society of Authors, "Vanity publishers understand the scarcity of traditional deals. They understand how desperately many writers want to get published. And they know exactly how to manipulate those writers to put money in their own pockets."